The Skeeters Are Coming

What a wacky spring in Wyoming!  In March, the word ‘drought’ and unusually warm temperatures were beginning to play in the minds of gardeners.  Back then we were about two to three weeks ahead in plant development with those warmer than normal temperatures.  Today, after weeks of cold, snow, and rain, plant development is exactly where it should be for the end of May in Wyoming.

But it’s not drought or plant development that has me concerned going forward—with the abundance of moisture, it’s mosquitos.   All of Wyoming is poised to have one horrific time with those pesky skeeters starting now.  So let’s visit about the mosquito’s life cycle and some of the control options gardeners can employ around their homes.

First of all, adult female mosquitos lay from 100 to 300 eggs per egg laying.  The preferred habitat is standing water—which we have plenty of.  Once the eggs hatch, the mosquito larvae are called wigglers because that’s how they move in the water.

These larvae continue to grow and shed their skin up to four times in just a week.  Then they become pupae and in four short days emerge from the water as adults.

Interestingly, the male mosquitos feed on fruit and plant nectar only. They mate only once with the females and die.  It’s the females that seek out blood from us mammals and after each blood feeding continues to lay eggs.  Females can live up to a month or longer.

It only takes an inch of standing water for the eggs to successfully grow into adults.  That fact alone has experts telling us to change out water in our bird baths, drain water from old tires, pots, even children’s swimming pools.

Control options are broken down into two distinct areas; killing the larvae and then the adults.  One of the most successful and least environmental harmful methods of controlling the larvae is to use pellets laced with a bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti).  The larvae feed on the pellets and become infected with Bti creating a toxic substance in their gut.  Bti does not harm people, pets and most other insects.

There are other larvae control options that include applying a thin film of oil on the surface of the water, in effect killing them by suffocation, and even a sonic wave machine that blows apart the larvae—this method sounds like science fiction at its best!

It’s far easier and friendlier to the environment to kill larvae versus adults.  That said, two of the main insecticides used for home mosquito control include malathion and permethrin.  Both are very effective and both will kill beneficial insects as well.  They are applied as a liquid or in an aerosol.

When using these mosquito killers, focus your attention in the quiet areas of your landscape, especially those areas that have a fair amount of dense vegetation and are shaded.  It’s in those areas that the adults rest during the day.

Then there are ingenious ways to kill mosquitos using traps.  Basically these traps emit CO2 and another chemical, octenol, known to attract adults.  When the mosquito zeros in on the trap, fans suck the mosquitos into the trap, where they die.

As for repellants, tried and true DEET is still the preferred method of keeping skeeters from biting you.

Originally published in the Casper Star-Tribune, May 31, 2015